To see outdoor works by artists with internationally-recognized names, your best bet on Long Island is to head to the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor, where you can ride around the 145-acre estate in your car or walk on the extensive pathways for free, with a $2 parking fee on weekends (though they’d like for you to visit the museum, too, where the adult fee is $10).
The outdoor sculptures are everywhere. “It’s fun to walk around and come upon them,” said Jean Henning, a senior museum educator who often leads school groups through the grounds. Some of the most popular works are on the path from the parking lot to the museum, including a whimsical 2001 bronze by Tom Otterness called “Free Money” that depicts two round cartoonish figures dancing together on a big bag with a dollar sign on it. She remembers her delight when she came upon another sculpture by the Brooklyn-based artist in the 14th Street subway station at Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. She recognized smaller versions of his humorous figures. “You walk down to where the A and E trains are, and there are his tiny people, tucked under a stairway. It’s wonderful. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment of ‘Oh my God, artwork!’”
It’s also a very different experience from deciding to visit a place where you know there’ll be sculptures. “If you’re coming to a museum with the purpose of looking at art, your brain is in that space. If you’re in the subway, it’s a surprise. It takes you away from being in that subway in New York, mentally anyway.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t be surprised at the museum. When you walk behind the museum building, she said, you suddenly look down upon a field with more sculptures. “There’s always this gasp.” One, by Allen Bertoldi, is in a pretty pond. “It’s a big black circle that reflects in the pond and looks different at different times of the day. Birds perch on it. It’s really part of the setting.”
Some of the 39 sculptures belong to the museum and others are on long term loan from major museums, like the Metropolitan Museum Art, that don’t have room to display or store all their sculptures. A red, white and blue painted steel piece by Alexander Calder, called “Sandy’s Butterfly,” is on loan from the Museum of Modern Art. The newest addition, by pop artist Jim Dine, is a one-year loan from the Pace Gallery. Called “The Mountain in the Distance,” it’s a reclining figure of Venus “with contours that look like mountains.”
One of the most famous artists represented is Richard Serra, who lives in Orient. His “Equal Elevations,” a site-specific work that he installed in 1983, consists of three steel rectangles, each 12 feet high and 40 feet long. Despite its size, “it’s tucked away. Hardly anyone knows it’s there.” It’s also almost impossible to move, so it’s on extended loan from the artist. A new map and brochure, scheduled to be available this month at the museum, will help you find it.
The museum educators often ask schoolchildren who visit where they would put a large sculpture. The most frequent answer, by far, is a shopping mall. They’re right, Ms. Henning said, at least for Long Island. “A mall would be the place for the most people to look at it. That’s where people go.”